When I had the grand idea to do a bodybuilding competition, the last thing I expected was that it would somehow tie into video games. While I've been playing since I was some moronic child and the SNES was my be-all-and-end-all, I never presumed that interest would merge into my love for fitness. It was so nonsensical I didn't even give it a thought.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, it did, and it did so in the strangest way possible. For those unaware, training for a contest where you strip down to your underwear and flex is no easy feat. I understand there's a certain confusion as to why anyone would want to do this, and that's something I accepted long ago. Even when I was chugging protein shakes as a teenager, people would look at me like I was crazy, and, although over the years it's become far more popular, taking it to this degree is still considered somewhat bizarre. 'Why are you doing this?' was a question I got asked time and time again.
The answer really is quite simple, too: because of the challenge. Regardless what anyone's opinion is of the whole thing, it takes serious commitment to drop your bodyfat to dangerous levels, give up your social life and put yourself into a state of 'controlled starvation' just so you can crunch your abs in front of a group of people you've never met. It's, undoubtedly, a one-of-a-kind situation.
The key word in that above paragraph, however, is 'challenge'. While the idea of playing Dark Souls makes me want to rip my own face off, I can only imagine the process is the same, and I found myself asking why I hate that series with a passion and yet chose to replicate that vibe here. From Software's series asks you to continually pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep ploughing forward, and that's essentially what the pathway to being super ripped is about as well.
Trying to explain the mental anguish you experience as you 'get lean' is perplexing. Aside from the constant gym sessions, cardio and focused diet that test you physically, it's the attack on your brain where you start to struggle. Knowing that something is most definitely out of whack, you have to fight against your natural instincts that are all shouting 'STOP, NOW!' because they're desperate to get back to normal.
This, naturally, lead to friends becoming a little concerned about my new lifestyle choice, and I found myself using Hidetaka Miyazaki creation as some sort of justification. Although Dark Souls isn't going to be of the detriment to anyone's health - aside from the rage it causes from being a tad broken - it's kind of the same logic. Through all the nonsense and hardship you keep thinking about what's at the finish line and hope the reward is worth it, and not a huge waste of life.
There are differences, obviously, especially because when you purposefully ignore these signals being sent from your brain you begin to feel disconnected from your body. They're in constant odds with one another as each tries to figure out what the hell is going on. When my head tells me to stop playing Dark Souls, I always used to listen, and for good reason...
It was here, mind, where another odd comparison came to light. As each week passed and got harder than the last, I used this line of thinking that had been my go-to excuse and just pasted the concept onto what was ahead.
When this daft process kicks off, it follows months of eating and increasing in size. You feel strong, powerful and in control. You may not look like a million bucks but you're built for purpose. The foundations have been laid and you know soon you've got to decorate the house.
The shift to the other side, however, comes at you astonishingly quickly, and that's when I decided to treat it as if it were stages in a game. That's exceptionally ridiculous and stupid, but it was an easy psychological step to take. For years I'd put myself in the same situation of trying to overcome odds. I just had a pad in my hand as opposed to a dumbbell, so in some weird state of needing to cope I approached my real life similarly. The future was only going to increase in difficulty - much as any traditional game would - and the show itself would become my boss fight. In short, I was going to nerd my way to some sort of bodybuilding success.
From here, the connections rolled out from nowhere. I imagined playing Metroid - or any one of the many Metroidvania games on offer - and how I'd deal with that moment where your abilities get stripped back one by one. When Samus loses her morph ball upgrade I'd equate that to my strength decreasing, and my performance suffering was surely not a millions miles away from Aran having her charge beam cruelly confiscated.
By the end getting through a gym session was the equivalent of repeating a mission constantly, failing because you don't have the equipment Nintendo's bounty hunter requires, or the realisation you should turn off your console and leave it be because the game has your number. Problem was, I had no power switch to push. The willpower needed to reach the other side was like nothing else.
And yet this is what I did for weeks on end, playing mental gymnastics in order to create an environment where internally everything made sense. I would switch franchises occasionally - Call Of Duty's perk system, Dragon Age's skill tree, Bloodborne for when I had to get real angry - but if hurling a weight above my head, or eating another piece of chicken, ever seemed too much I gamed it. It is arguably the most absurd thing I've ever done.
Whether or not it worked is anyone's guess. I certainly pushed past the low points and competed as I had planned, so ultimately whatever I did paid off. With that said, I did use at least one video game I genuinely hate to steer me in the right direction. For that, I can never forgive myself...